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Stamppot

Stamppot

Stamppot I’m going to say something deeply unfashionable in foodie circles: I like Dutch cuisine. I like hearty soups and stews and mountains of cabbage anyway. I’m very Northern European in my tastes and I like small deep fried things, thus I enjoyed the hell out of the food when I visited Holland.

Dutch food gets a bad rap and I’m sure a lot of that comes from the fact tastes have changed and this kind of solid, simply flavoured food doesn’t translate well when cooked in bulk or done cheaply like in ready meals. But frankly, I think it’s pretty outrageous of the Irish or British to criticise other countries’ food as being bland or boring. It misses the point, creates a kind of food snobbery and ignores the seismic effect World War II had on Northern European food and the attempts to regroup from that. Read more

No Fuss Gnocchi

gnocchiI think everyone who has ever met me knows how I feel about potatoes. Pretty much a full food group in my life, I am never without a bag of spuds. My idea of treating myself is to buy a different sort for each recipe and mull over the merits of Anyas, King Edwards, Desirees and Kerr Pinks. I’ve even grown my own and spent hours on the internet trying to find the elusive Yukon Gold. I’m either slightly obessive or painfully stereotypically Irish.

So imagine how pained I was when I went to buy a bag of bog basic white spuds last week and they were a mindbending £2.40 for 2.5 kilos. At the rate I consume potatoes that’s bumped my shopping budget up to a point where there’s just not much wiggle room. I had two options: stop eating potatoes or find a cheaper option.

Obviously I went for the latter and decided to play around with the bag of Sainsbury’s Basics Instant Mashed Potato I bought a while back as a cheaper gluten free alternative to breadcrumbs and batter. 125g of dry mash and 150ml milk and 425ml water makes 695g of mash, meaning one 250g bag costing 49p makes well over a kilo of mash.

Unfortunately I have bad memories of instant mash from school dinners where it came served in uniform scoops with a oddly powdery texture. It needed so much butter that it would be heartstopping in cost and health consequences. So what was I going to do with my mountain of mash now?

Older, wiser and more versed in the potato dishes of the world, that’s an easy one. I’m going to make gnocchi with it. And potato bread. Then I’m going to marvel at how quick both are and how I suddenly feel like one of those home economics teachers from the 70s by telling you this.

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Brazilian wild duck à l’orange

Wild duck with forced rhubarb, blood orange, carrots and mash

Actually, this is a slightly misleading title. The duck wasn’t from Brazil (it was however, pretty wild, coming as it did from near Preston*), and it’s not your classic duck à l’orange either. But hey,  it was absolutely delicious, and as smooth and fluff-free as any Brazilian you’re likely to find in this country. Let me explain…

The game season somewhat passed me by this year: I’ve placed a few bits and pieces in the freezer which will make an appearance for a special occasion, but have been lacking in feathered friends to feast upon. So when a friend contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in a wild duck, I jumped at the chance. I’d have been quackers not to…

He explained once of his colleagues is a wildfowler, so at this time of year he often comes into work with a bunch of mallards in the back of his car. This particular specimen was a very fine fellow… a good weight, beautiful plumage, cleanly shot. I was very grateful, but after taking receipt realised I’d have to pluck the bugger. I left it hanging for a couple of days in a cool place, and put the plucking to the back of my mind as a busy working week flew by.

Wild duck, hanging

I’d picked up a handful of wonderful blood oranges from Bill the greengrocer in Todmorden Market in late January, along with my perennial local favourite, Yorkshire forced rhubarb. These wonderfully seasonal delights sat for a few days at home, teasing me as I mulled over what they’d be best used with. I really fancied pairing the two of them for something lip-smackingly tart and sweet, inspired by Miss South’s award-winning Bloody Old Lady marmalade from last year (which, despite rationing, I sadly finished last month).

Beautiful blood oranges

So when the mallard popped up I thought a simple compote would provide the perfect foil its wild gamey flavour. All I did was to roughly chop the rhubarb stalks, halve the orange segments, add a tablespoon or two of Demerara sugar and a splash of cloudy apple juice, then heat for a couple of hours with a cinnamon stick and a couple of star anise. After some gentle cooking the fruit fell apart into pastel strands, its sharpness balanced by the spices and a touch of sweetness. That made for a lovely dessert with some natural yoghurt

Cue Saturday night, when I’d promised to cook for my better half, and I suddenly realised I needed a foolproof method to denude the bird. Not fancying a messy pluck in the darkness outside, I stumbled on a video of this unconventional technique from the ever-reliable Hank Shaw from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.

Rather than describing the technique in great detail, I recommend watching the video. But in brief, once you’ve removed the main feathers from the duck, rather than getting caught up in a maelstrom of down, you dip the carcass in a cocktail of hot water  and melted paraffin wax.  I had to improvise a bit (using half a bar of my favourite Fjällräven Greenland wax… is this the first time it’s been used in the kitchen, or does that proud Swedish hunting tradition mean it’s a regular culinary assistant in the frozen north?) but the whole process was dead easy.

Once the down was coated in a thin film of wax I yanked it straight out and plonked it into a bucket of icy water. Like magic (in fact, like Ice Magic, if anyone remembers that) the whole thing sets into a hard shell around the carcass. Removing the final shell of wax and down was as easy as peeling an orange… and it left skin as clean and dimpled as one too. A DIY wildfowl Brazilian… plucking brilliant!

I only used the breasts, which I delicately removed and rubbed with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, before sealing and searing it in my newly seasoned Mermaid** skillet. I’d had wild duck breasts a couple of weeks before at El Gato Negro Tapas, where the head chef, Simon Shaw, had recommended they needed to be treated with a delicate touch so they wouldn’t overcook and lose their flavour and texture. As we like our meat rare, I flashed them for a couple of minutes in the pan, then rested them for at least twice as long.

There was just time to plate up the veg – a simple selection of creamy parsley mash and some Vichyssoise carrot batons – then I sliced the duck. The deep magenta meat quivered almost as much as I did as I spooned the spiced winter fruit over it… the aroma was stunning and it looked as pretty as a picture. Thankfully the taste was equally good… incredibly tender, rich duck was given a light kick from the sharp, spiced notes of the rhubarb and blood orange. Accompanied by a bottle of Spanish red (a delightful Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero from Hangingditch) this was the perfect dish for a freezing cold January night… seasonal, (mostly) local, and bursting with wonderfully rich, complimentary flavours. I can’t recommend it highly enough; indeed I might open a salon to wax the local wildfowl population on a more regular basis…

* Wild? I was absolutely livid
*
* Disclosure: I unexpectedly won this in a Christmas Blogger’s Challenge for my Tongue’n’Cheek pudding… hurray!

Wise yer bap… put pasties on them!

Growing up reciting the Lord’s Prayer everyday at school, it made perfect sense that we asked to be given our daily bread. Belfast is a city of bakeries and practically every meal, including our famous Ulster Fry, combines bread in some shape or form. In fact, the city even gives its name to the world famous crusty Belfast Bap.

Perfect filled with anything, mainly fried goods, this humble bread roll has an illustrious past. Invented by master baker, cross community pioneer and philanthropist Barney Hughes in the 1840s, it is credited with feeding the city during the Famine and ensuring it wasn’t as badly affected as many other parts of Ireland, paving the way for it to become one of the great industrial centres of the Empire, famed especially for shipbuilding, including the Titanic.

The Belfast bap is still baked daily back in Northern Ireland, forming the basis of many a meal. There’s few things that don’t taste better stuffed into a buttery Belfast bap. In fact, a crisp sandwich isn’t a crisp sandwich unless it’s Tayto Cheese & Onion on a proper burnt brown topped bap. But the ultimate Belfast meal is that stalwart of every chippie, the Pastie Bap.

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Haggis Stuffed Onions

I love Burns’ Night. Not only is it a welcome night of revelry in the grey gloom of January, it’s an excuse to enjoy the delights of haggis (and mash). Seen as plain food by some, I associate it with excitement and glamour thanks to childhood memories of our parents hosting Burns’ Suppers for friends. They’d dress up, the table would get laid with the good plates and the house would be full of laughter and clinking glasses and everyone having a good time. That association and the comedy flying haggis that sat on the mantlepiece all year round has given me a huge soft spot for the humble haggis.

I do try and eat it each January, but I’ve never cooked it for myself before as its usually too much for one person and I feel I’d be treading on Scottish toes to host a supper myself. So imagine my glee when on a recent trip to Walters Butchers in Herne Hill I espied a teeny tiny perfectly portioned haggis for sale. Feeling slightly in need of indulgence since it’s a dry January, I brought it home and plotted doing something slightly different to the normal haggis, neeps and tatties.

And unsurprisingly, I got the urge to stuff something with the haggis. But since I’ve already tried squid and cabbage leaves and tomatoes and a marrow and probably more I’ve forgotten, it seemed like I’d run out of things to stuff. Until I espied a big bag of onions in the farmers’ market. I’ve heard of such things as a stuffed onion but never eaten them. I decided they would be a good challenge.

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